By G. Goodmountain, dwf

31 March 2013

I’ve no intention of playing Slaves to Armok: God of Blood Chapter II: Dwarf Fortress, or as it’s more commonly know - Dwarf Fortress. That said I’m blown away by the sheer intricacy of the project and its roadmap for future development.

dwf5

On the other hand its visuals are… interesting.

But what it makes me think about is the idea of modular game design. I seem to recall reading an article about procedural content generation and how in theory it could mean that game graphics would improve with hardware upgrades.

That may seem a silly thing to say if taken the wrong way so let me first ensure we’re all on the same page here.

If a game comes out this year there is an upper limit on how good it can look. Once all the settings are cranked to maximum then that’s how pretty it goes, no further. Run it on a super computer powered by dreams and liquid cooled by unicorn blood and it’ll still never look better than that.

This article (which annoyingly I can’t find) talked about how a game would essentially scale to whatever hardware one threw at it. Whether it’s really feasible or not remains to be seen but it’s an interesting idea.

Would you like an example of procedurally generated content?

Here:

How cool is that?

So back to modularity. What if the underlying game mechanics were built as a separate, even modular entity of their own? As graphics technology improved one could just switch out the parts and the game would stay current, visually at least. If built cleverly enough a sort of modularity might even be feasible with the mechanics.

So for example if Introversion’s City Generator tool created the environment to play in that’d be cool. But further down the line what if more detail was desired? A new version could be created that’d just replace the old one, the mechanics staying the same. It could even be sold using a DLC model, in theory.

It’s a similar principal to HD versions of old games, really, but I’d be interested to see what it could do for more cerebral games where the underlying mechanics are the interesting bit.

Bitcoins are fairly interesting as a subject both from a technical standpoint and an economic one but the concept behind mining them got me thinking about video games.

In order to acquire bitcoins one can mine for them, essentially solving complex mathematical problems and submitting them to the network. They get rewarded with a certain number of bitcoins. Every so often the number of coins goes down. Ultimately there’s only going to be 21m bitcoins in the entire economy.

I’d give a better explanation than that but honestly I’d probably mess it up (if I haven’t already).cards

Now for the game part – trading card games don’t really work digitally. Sure cards can be overpriced DLC for a game but there’s no real tangibility to the files. They can’t be traded with another player. The cards are digital and therefore basically infinite with no intrinsic worth.

What if bitcoin-like technology was used?

Cards would be transferable and could be “mined” for, for want of a better word. Cards could be sold. Hell, a new set could be designed and the issuing company could mine enough before release to release a limited run that was truly limited.

I’m not precisely sure of the fine details of the maths behind it but the concept of digital goods having limits through uniqueness is an interesting one, I feel.

Hmmm.

Let’s talk about value propositions for a moment. Well, first, what that means:

It’s supposed to be what a company offers. A straightforward statement of what the customer gets from them.

In this post I’m going to be using it more to refer to what the customer gets for their money, or would get. So for example Wagamama offers tasty Asian food at a fairly reasonable price without making it too complex for us primitive Western folk. I like their food, at least for now, and feel that it’s they offer a good value proposition.

So when I tried to watch a DVD earlier this evening I was shocked at how poor the value proposition offered was.

This wasn’t some unheard of film it was The Avengers Assemble. Before letting me even access the menu there were unskippable trailers. There was even a toy advert.

A toy advert.

Really?

Then the menus were this over-done mess that frankly had me literally shouting “GET ON WITH IT!”Get on with it!

Putting this disc in my machine actually popped up an autoplay menu to ask me how I’d like to deal with video DVDs. It would seem that in the last four years or so I’ve not once tried to play a DVD using this machine.

You know why?

Because bronze is brilliant!Bronze is brilliant!

That is to say discs and so forth have been phased out of my life as they’re terrible value propositions.

If I download a film and store it on my media centre’s hard disk then it sits there, networked, available to anyone on the network and through a variety of friendly frontends.2013-03-30_00001

Whereas if I buy a film on a disc I have to store it on a shelf or similar. That in itself is extremely aggravating due to how much space a large collection takes up.

Next up I’d need to take it down, pull out the disc, take it over to the player/PC, navigate whatever nightmare of design someone thought would make a good menu, and then watch the film. Right after it’s forced me to watch various other crap first and possibly a patronising and legally inaccurate* anti-piracy warning.

The point here being that why would buying discs be a sensible use of resources? It’s a terrible value proposition compared to the alternatives.

To contrast this with why I buy games on Steam rather than pirate them (when the prices are within my reach): free is great but patching is a nightmare, storing the install files is annoying, and half the time the original crack doesn’t work properly. Paying a small sum takes away all that hassle.

To me that’s a good value proposition.

The movie industry frequently argues that it cannot compete with free. I would argue that they’re just too lazy and stubborn to do so. Creating a decent value proposition isn’t always easy but in many cases it’s easier than one might think.

Also treating your paying customers like idiot criminals does little to encourage me to spend money. If I go to the cinema and you lecture me about piracy after bombarding me with adverts for twenty minutes I’m not going to be inclined to buy anything you try to sell me.

Don’t be a dick to us. You need us.

 

*Legally inaccurate as in “You wouldn’t steal a…”. Downloading a film isn’t theft, legally speaking, it’s copyright infringement. The latter does not remove a unit of stock from the supply chain. This isn’t to say it’s any better or worse simply that the message is inaccurate.

Something I love about Bob’s Burgers is the fact that it’s small scale. Scenes take place in a variety of settings but generally the scope is within a single town, usually less.

This isn’t to say I want all my TV shows to be like that, not at all, but I appreciate a show that chooses to work with a few limited elements and get them right. The dialogue is excellent, the voice acting makes me laugh, and the plot isn’t always predictable American television drivel.

I’ve been having a go at watching Dollhouse and made the foolish mistake of watching S01E13. This episode shows a post apocalyptic future that isn’t entirely unlike the one found in the Terminator universe.

The problem with that is that it’s not what I wanted from the show. A big conspiracy? A huge, secret organisation? The end of the world?

Ugh.

Can we have an American live action drama show that doesn’t have these for once?

I was hoping that the reason the “dollhouses” could exist in that universe was because they were small scale. Very well financed due to the nature of their work (providing men and women with customised minds to do various things. Somewhere between an assassin agency and a brothel). Multiple establishments, sure, but not countless.

When things get too big it’s hard to control them. Fewer people is better for secrecy. Hardly brain surgery (aha).

The second series hasn’t concluded but as I know where it’s eventually going to end up I’m really struggling to care. I’ll finish it, it’s good to work to, but it amazes me how unimaginative the surrounding elements ended up.

Small conspiracies succeed more often than big ones. Would it have been so hard to write something that didn’t end up in New World Order tinfoil hat territory?

Apparently so.

Next.

I’ve been watching the development of the OUYA console with some puzzlement. On the one hand it seems to be selling but on the other hand… why?

It seems like it’s going to ship with emulators for a few old consoles (N64 and back). Even then, well, have you tried going back to play games from that era?

Personally I find I can’t get past how old they are. I don’t mean the dreadful graphics in this case - I actually mean the game design decisions. Since the 1990s games have developed a great deal (for better or worse) and going back is rarely that pleasant.

The recent comparison for me is Tomb Raider. Those games looked fascinating back in the 1990s. I got a copy of Tomb Raider 2 for a birthday one year, I seem to recall. That was amazing!

Well, it would have been if the game design wasn’t, well, shit.

37065You know what I love managing? Health bars and medipacks!

Really?

Of course bloody not.

Regenerating health is a wonderful bit of modern game design. I know lots of people don’t care for it but for me it gets one bit of bother out of the way. I don’t constantly worry about how much health I can afford to lose in the upcoming section, backtracking for pickups. Ugh. Good riddance.

Much like many other modern innovations (well, modern-era concepts that have now become widely used even if they originated in some obscure Spectrum game) old games could have implemented “suck your thumb health” but didn’t.

So which console games from that era would I care enough about to buy a set-top box for…

Nope. There aren’t any.

There were lots of great games but I’ve played them. I played them back then, when they were at their peak. I don’t want to go back and play the clunky mess that is Goldeneye (by modern standards). The remake for the Wii was a lot of fun but the original does not hold up.

Mariokart? I played that as a child and at university.

I’d like to play remakes of lots of the games from then. Polished versions that take out lots of the tiresome crap that brought them down.

Let me make custom playlists for Mariokart cups or how about in game maps tracking collectables?

Similarly some SNES games are probably still good but the rest, well…

New doesn’t always mean better but “classic” shouldn’t mean “beyond scrutiny” either. They were amazing in their time but would they really be all that good these days?

I’d rather play the 3DS version of Ocarina of Time than the version I played on my N64. I think the latter only cost me £8 though so I don’t feel ripped off like I did with Mario 64. Ugh, what do people see in that game?

Anyway, tangent over, who is buying the OUYA? What’s the appeal?

handsOUYA1

My confusion shouldn’t be mistaken for negativity though. I hope it succeeds because I have no idea what it’ll do to the landscape of gaming. I’m enjoying it shift and change and as such would love to see it add to the increasingly interesting world of game development.

Perhaps one day I’ll have a game launched on that platform.

Helen, really?

26 March 2013

There’s an article on the BBC today talking about the “risks of pornography” that has me a little conflicted.

I suppose part of it comes down to defining pornography. By that I don’t mean whether Michelangelo's David is pornographic but more about what modern pornography is.

On the one hand there’s mainstream pornography, for want of a better word. Stupidly named performers, ridiculously fake, all the tenderness of a thrown knife.

biancaOn the other hand there’s, well, the rest. That covers everything from niche fetishes to amateur videos. Who doesn’t have access to cameras that can record video these days?

The point being that porn isn’t binary any more. Arguably it never was. There’s good porn, bad porn, realistic porn, unrealistic porn, and the weird and wonderful. Some things I love put off other people and vice versa. Wouldn’t it be boring if we were all the same?

Re-reading the linked to article I find myself wondering what the concern is fundamentally based on. Protecting children from sexual predators is mentioned, unsurprisingly, but that’s an edge case at best.

One teacher told the conference she feared books like Fifty Shades of Grey normalised sexually abusive relationships.

Or opened their eyes to the fact that sexuality isn’t as simple as has been portrayed for the last few hundred years? How terrible. We can’t have children…learning! It’s shocking and disgusting!

What I do find offensive is that it’s better that children be ignorant and be moulded by their teacher’s views rather than develop in their own ways.

This generation will be different from the last. We were different from our predecessors. My older sisters (in their 40s) were different from their parents. I’m sure the principal here is clear.

Who are we to define how they should feel about sex? If they are less uptight about it how is that intrinsically bad?

There’s obviously areas where sensible caution needs to be exercised but ultimately if we don’t help them learn they’ll just do it without us to help them when they get in trouble.

You cannot plan the future. Only presumptuous fools plan. The wise man steers.

Rivets aren’t free

25 March 2013

I’ve been trying out the latest Tomb Raider game and enjoying it more than, well, I’ve tried in the past to enjoy the series but this is the first time I’ve succeeded.

I’m enjoying the setting and the exploration is fairly fun.

That said, I cannot shake a particular thought whilst playing. It tears me away from being immersed whilst also making me feel impressively pedantic at the same time.

If these places were real, someone built them.

Take the German-built radio tower. Aside from the interior of it making no sense (1950s style computers?) it’s clear that to build something where it is a lot of man power and resources had to be used.tower

We’re talking many tons of steel, vast amounts of concrete. All of them would have to be pulled up the mountain too in some way.

During WW2 steel wasn’t just handed out – it’s a fundamental resource of war. That steel could have made thousands of MP40s, or StG44s. That sort of thing really matters under those circumstances – weapons were redesigned to use as little metal as possible so they could be made cheaply and quickly.

All the resources had to be diverted for something like this. It was no accident. Plenty of people had to answer to plenty of other people to make something this big happen.

Similarly there’s lit candles everywhere. Putting aside the fact that they’re lit someone had to make all those candles. On an island like this one, where’s that going to happen?

It really takes me out of the game when I see things that don’t make sense like that. I can accept all sorts of magic and science fiction, but when we’re talking concrete and steel there has to be some sense.

I’d love for such places to exist, I truly would, but this wasn’t the might of the USSR throwing low quality steel at any number of projects in remote places.1

The Soviet Union could afford such excesses. The Third Reich could not, even if it would have liked to. Man power, maybe, but steel, multiple ships, construction equipment? No, I don’t buy it.

I really hope I’m wrong. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if such places existed out there somewhere?

Many years ago, around perhaps 2006 or so, there was a real slump in gaming. Looking back it’s fairly obvious as to why, even if it was lost on me at the time.

The previous generation of video game consoles had many excellent games but really didn’t compete on an even playing field with Windows PCs. For example 2004 saw Doom 3, The Sims 2, Far Cry, and Half Life 2 released. There were plenty of good games for home consoles, certainly, and many of the aforementioned titles were later ported to them, but the PC was head and shoulders above them.Doom3-726x248

Then in late 2005 the Xbox 360 was released and changed things.

I’m not suggesting it suddenly made things better, it’s more that it changed the playing field. On the one hand its better hardware allowed home console games to begin competing with Windows PCs. That said, on the other hand, as with any console, it took quite some time for developers to “get the hang of” the hardware meaning that launch games weren’t anything all that special.

433723-saints-row-xbox-360-screenshot-forgive-and-forget-stations

Its direct competitor, Sony’s Playstation 3, didn’t launch until the end of 2006/first quarter of 2007. In the meantime this meant that there was a mix of Windows, 360, Game Cube, PS2, and so forth. A real mess.

Why would anyone choose to launch any games around then?

Come 2007 and things were starting to get fun again as there was a stable set of platforms to work from. In the meantime though, ugh.

I raise this as I’m conflicted. On the one hand I don’t recall a time when I’ve been so excited about game development. The rise of crowdfunding, the Unity engine, social media empowering developers to see how people play and what they enjoy… It’s exciting stuff.

That said the PS4 is coming relatively soon and Microsoft’s offering probably isn’t far off either. What’s that going to do to the established playing field? Will there be another few years while the transition happens?

I don’t know the answer, but it’s nice to have a bit of an emotional stake in a console war again, even if this time I’m not on the side of anyone but myself.

I’ve used Skype for a long time. I’ve used MSN for even longer.

I used MSN when I was just a kid and kept a Hotmail account to use it (back in the day it had to be a Hotmail account). That email address stopped being useful to me long ago. The odd email that does arrive gets picked up by Gmail automatically anyway.

For Skype I use my Gmail address to login. Realistically though I only use it to talk to about, erm, four people. That’s four more than MSN though.

I say “MSN” because despite Microsoft’s extensive rebranding efforts I haven’t spoken to anyone that accepted the name change. It’s supposed to be called “Windows Live Messenger” but why they would attempt to use that toxic brand for what was once a good product confuses me. The only good Windows Live product I’ve ever used is Windows Live Writer. Some how it managed to be good.

So now that Microsoft own Skype they’re merging the two. Sort of.

They’re actually merging Skype accounts into Windows Live accounts, not the other way around. Well gee, fabulous, I’d love everyone on my contact list to see my now defunct Hotmail address!

Amusingly the address is actually relevant to my work again but that doesn’t change the fact that really I just want to retire it. However it is part of the Windows Live gaming structure and so is tied to my Xbox Live account and my Windows Live DLC stuff.

Either way this strikes me as another one of these cases of “If you didn’t want it to be what it is, why did you buy it?” situations. A company buys another and then proceeds to meddle with it until it loses all value. How much MS intend to interfere remains to be seen but I’ve already seen them do a variety of aggravating things in newer versions of Skype.

I’ll put it this way – Google Plus has hangouts that allow multi person video calls without charging me for the privilege.

Something we take into account when releasing documents on tUGS is the concept of orphan works.

An orphan work is a copyrighted work for which the copyright owner cannot be contacted.

[source]

It would seem lots of people think that one needs to do something special for their work to be counted as copyrighted. That’s not the case. By creating something one owns the rights to it, assuming it’s not a derivative work.

So why does that matter?

Well essentially sharing copyrighted works is often illegal. There might not be any consequences but it’s still how the law goes and that impacts lots of decisions.

For example, if I were to write a scenario for Gorkamorka and publish it online under a unique user account and then abandon that account it’d become an orphan work. People could read my post but it couldn’t be republished, shared, built upon, etc..

Our intention with our documents is to ensure, where possible, we make our work available under a license that allows the work to be used and shared as we intended it. If tUGS vanished tomorrow one could still legally share all of our releases without concern for legality.

img462cb39c445e9I’ve actually been doing my best to track down the authors of various things over the years to try to update their work to a more modern format. That is to say a nicely laid out print PDF with legally available graphics that can be shared freely.

For example just today I managed to secure permission to polish and share a Gorkamorka scenario called “Santa Klaws”.

It’s a fun little scenario that I’d very much like to play. That said it’s a pile of text on a forum, not a printable PDF. It’s also not laid out in a clear and readable fashion.

As soon as I mentioned it to my fellow tUGS writer, Liam, he pointed out that it’d be fun to combine Gorkamorka’s “Da Rollin’ Road” mechanic with the scenario. As the writer of the scenario agreed to a suitable CC license we can now do that and distribute it. Otherwise it’d be a derivative work and as such we wouldn’t have the right to publish it.

I’m not sure whether it matters whether you’ve been naughty or nice though!

Santa Orc3

I frequently find myself confused by why people make the argument “But you won’t be paid as well…”

I understand the desire for material things. Stuff is nice.

When it comes down to it though, do we look back on our lives and see the experiences we’ve had or the things we’ve bought with our days?

The things we can buy aren’t even designed to last that long and our economy is built around wanting more than one can have. This is no secret.

So when it comes down to a choice of company A paying £35K and company B offering £40K the choice should be easy. Well, that is if money is what matters. Personally I can’t stand doing work that drives me to suicide through boredom. If it’s a choice of job A being interesting and satisfying why would I take the monotony of job B?

It aggravates me because it’s taken as a universal truth that money is what matters. It does matter, of course, I’m not suggesting otherwise, simply that after a certain point what more would that money buy? After tax it’s not all that much, really. What would it buy that would be good enough to justify a daily grind?

If the difference was £35K or £100K then I could see a marked difference. The latter could allow one to buy a house much sooner, for example. But an extra few hundreds a month? Without self discipline it would be wasted away so quickly anyway. £283 or so, according to the BBC calculator. That’s the difference per month that the extra £5K would make.

That’s really not enough to justify the majority of daylight hours in a month doing something tedious, is it?

So if it was a choice doing something more interesting like being part of an interesting project, or managing a great team, or just being part of an environment that made each day a serious of tasks mixed in with cheerful conversation and satisfaction. That seems worth the lower salary.

It’s cliché, I know, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I know I was happier putting in fence posts than I was photocopying receipts.

Here, have an overused image to go with the hippy musings:the-dark-knight-joker-heath-ledger-burning-money

I’ve been trying to learn to code in various languages for many years.

First, I’m not sure when, I tried QBASIC. It seemed simple enough. I later read some recommendation for Pascal and tried to give that a shot, but to no avail. I played around with some PHP too, but ultimately I couldn’t get the hang of the abstract thinking required.

Years passed and I gave up on the idea. Then recently a thread on AskReddit recommended Harvard’s online computer science primer course, CS50. I’ve only done week 0’s lecture and problems so it may seem silly to talk of progress and normally I’d try not to. There’s a reason I’m making an exception though – as an assessment for the module I’ve finally written my first complete program.

It’s a Warhammer 40,000 imperial date converter. Sure, it’s not much, but it’s complete and it works, and I made it myself, graphics and sounds aside.

(As a side note the graphics and sounds are actually just because they were a requirement of the course exercise. If I actually wanted graphics I’d have drawn them myself)

bsa-report

For an example of what it’s for see the image above. The date is in the following format:

Checksum|Year fraction|Year|Millennium

Hardly human readable, but then again even in the fiction it’s not supposed to be a commonly used format. Instead it’s for official stuff. Pain in the arse if you happen to be a person trying to sort through documents to create a timeline.

So for that date, 8431345m35, it works out as 07:36 on 6th June 34,345. Admittedly the checksum suggests that time on Earth could be completely bloody different, but at least I think my maths is right.

converter-sourceAs Scratch doesn’t have a nice way of handling dates the code ends up being a little amusing to look at.

That’s only some of it but it’s what does the processing of the date. The huge bit is multiple For/Else bits to figure out which month it is. Getting the day of the year number is easy, for example, but as the months have assorted lengths a loop wouldn’t work.

I’m impressed that I finally coded something, even if it’s not code in the traditional sense.

Perhaps for my next project I’ll try to recreate it in actual code. Better yet, after that maybe I’ll create something for converting dates into Imperial. How hard can it be?

Well, not that hard, but perhaps I’ll some how be good enough to pull it off.

I love the Giant Bomb guys. I’ve listened to their podcast since it was the Hotspot over on Gamespot. They make me laugh whilst also providing excellent information and insight into the world of video games.

That said, occasionally I disagree with them; in this case with regards to Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.

On the one hand it attempts a lot of things, which is admirable, but it’s also the only CoD game I couldn’t finish. I’ve played through every CoD game except Call of Duty 2, by my reckoning. Many of the more recent ones I polished off in a single sitting. Couldn’t do that this time.

The problem for me was that after playing for about four hours I found myself groaning out loud and literally saying “This isn’t fun!”

On one mission I was being briefed about using a drone to clear an escape route for my vehicles. I literally didn’t want to do it. Then I had to drive through the cleared path whilst being pursued, uh, I think. It wasn’t clear how many vehicles were with me and how many were against! Everything was happening so fast as to be incomprehensible.

That pretty much summed up my experience. I didn’t get the chance to try anything because I was constantly having the rug pulled from under me.

call-of-duty-black-ops-2-locations

So yeah, there’s horses to be used in the 1980s in it. Nothing too crazy about that except how it portrays horse riding. Apparently the devs have never been on horseback, let alone whilst cantering. Okay, fine, I can forgive that but I couldn’t tell whether the helicopters were all enemy ones or not. I knew I had to take out the enemy tanks, fine, but where do I place these mines? How am I supposed to know where I’m going to be whisked off to next on the map? Hurry, hurry, hurry!

4061Call-of-Duty-Black-Ops-II_FOB-Spectre_On-the-Ground-Xbox360In fact the only time I didn’t feel the game was in a hurry was in the abysmal “strikeforce” missions. Of course there’s a timer. I love timers. It’s always easy for me to concentrate when I’m being bloody timed. There’s a limited number of retries and the units under one’s command would lose a battle of wits with a pot of yoghurt. Order them to do something and they’ll repeatedly bollocks it up and take their time doing it.

See the big walker things? They’re called CLAWs. They’re basically useless. I don’t know about you but something with legs, whilst handy, should probably have wheels too. I’d order them to do something and they’d spend several minutes getting there, sometimes getting confused along the way. FUN.Call of Duty: Black Ops

Robot Chicken sums it up with a sketch about Go-Bots:

The campaign tries to do some clever non-linear stuff but it didn’t work for me. That is to say it took a long time before the relatively simple narrative was clear to me. I’ve got to say if I never have to hear Harper (Michael Rooker) talk ever again it’ll be too soon. The problem for me was that Frank Woods aside, I really didn’t have any stake in any of the narrative. I didn’t care about the characters, the setting, the near-future stuff.

I do enjoy a good non-linear narrative. Alpha Protocol was lovely like that, except there I felt I was steering. CoD:BO2 does some things right – I wasn’t sure when I was making a choice, which is a little fun. The problem being that after each mission it would show me an outcome. Don’t tell me what I failed to do, it smashes my immersion!

What annoyed me most, I think, was that most of the optics on gunsights were broken for me. I did some searching and apparently this isn’t an uncommon problem. Something like this:blops-2

Not annoying at all.

I love playing with guns in the modern CoD games and this forced me to reject most weapons. Bleh.

Also the 2025 stuff, whilst cool in some respects, was mostly aggravating. I can stand two years in the future but longer just feels like sci-fi. I enjoy sci-fi in the right context but this isn’t one of them. I want modern military stuff and to feel like some sort of action movie elite soldier, or recent past military stuff. Instead it’s a mish-mash that actively put me off playing.

Black Ops, as opposed to the sequel, at least had the advantage of Cold War mysterious charm - conspiracy theories, censored documents, and so on. This one on the other hand has, uh, stompy robot things and some sort of nebulous enemy organisation with some sort of ties to social media? I kinda stopped paying attention.

I uninstalled it. You can keep this one, Treyarch. Make a game that I don’t actively not want to play.

I’ve now been writing a post every day (with a single exception) for over three months.

It was a New Year’s Resolution I came up with in December and decided to run with. The thing being that I don’t do resolutions as I feel they’re needlessly artificial and put off doing things until later. I’ve had loads of practice at procrastinating and as such felt that in order to progress I should jump right in and start.

The other thing being that while I’ve mentioned it in passing I didn’t want to start talking about the project until I was well under way. Much like choosing a final name for a project is usually a bad first step it seemed a better idea to see how it went before “running my mouth”.

I’ve actually done this in the past, long ago, on a blog called “Tech Nonsense” running on a sub domain over on WD many moons ago. Sadly something went wrong (I don’t recall the specifics) and I essentially lost all my plog posts (plog was the platform, now known as LifeType). I did it for a month and a half, I seem to recall, in about 2005 or 2006 and it was relatively painless.

Anyway, this isn’t a milestone post. I think it’s actually post 96 since I started on December 12th 2012. I’ve not done much in the way of stat tracking either as I didn’t feel this was a drive to generate traffic instead it’s a fight to get better at writing both in terms of volume of words and quality.

The thing being at university I really didn’t write much. There weren’t regular assignments to do for the most part, only an assessment or two per module. I don’t really like writing and find requirements for large volumes of words to be quite intimidating. That said I also feel it’s daft to feel that way and not do anything about it. As you can see, I’m giving it a shot!

Where possible I try to include some images to break up the text and don’t really expect anyone to read my ramblings. I know of a few people who do (thanks, guys!) and I try to write in such a way as to not offend anyone more than I would in person. But really, who completes a four year degree in the UK and can’t spell “voila”?! Ahem.

I don’t know how long I’ll keep this up but with any luck, all year or longer. It does me good to have some regular commitments, I think, even if at times they’re a chore. My work schedule is free floating and I hope I can create a bit more stability in that arena over the coming months. I’m improving though so that’s a definite plus. Hopefully one day I’ll be better equipped to deal with that aspect of life as at the moment I really need to work on it.

Right, Fox out! PTTHO and all that!

For all the other complaints I have about the British government occasionally they do something I agree with. Admittedly I’ve wanted them to do this for the best part of ten years but, hey, it’s finally happening.

Use open source software in preference to proprietary or closed source alternatives, in particular for operating systems, networking software, Web servers, databases and programming languages.

[source]

That little imperative comes from the beta version of the government service design manual. Essentially the UK government has formally expressed a preference for open source in IT policy.

Yep.

I saw loads of Microsoft vendor lock-in happening when I was in school and it rather shocked me. Essentially that put the administration in a position where change was incredibly difficult and their bargaining power was essentially non-existent. Why would you agree to that?!

I rather like the way Liam Maxwell (the government’s chief technology officer) puts it:

…This approach will also ensure we are not locked in to some mad oligopoly outsource…

Open source isn’t always the best solution, sometimes something proprietary is streets ahead (*cough*) but this at least gives OSS a leg up. Personally I find it pretty abhorrent to see private companies putting our governing bodies over a barrel. If our money is to be spent then it should at least be used to get good value for money, not given away by the millions in exchange for closed-source stuff. I expect our public sector to be accountable to us for their deeds and the same should be true for their software.

Something else that comes out of this document is the following:

For unique needs and common problems which have yet to be solved well elsewhere, develop software by coding in the open and publish under an open source licence (Legal processes/Open standards and licensing).

This is something I like to see: code we paid for being available for us to check over and benefit from. We’ve got a great legacy of computing in the UK but it seems these days we’re not really doing much to encourage it.

Previously we manufactured stuff, these days we don’t really. It would seem we’re mostly just a service economy, from what I can see, and whilst that’s not the end of the world it might be nice to start making things again. In an increasingly digital environment why aren’t we striving to be a technology power house? Manufacturing can be outsourced but why not handle design and code here?

It makes me wonder what statistics will do for coding. Steam has a vast wealth of data on its users, Facebook too, the same can be said for any number of other things. Wouldn’t it be interesting to leverage this data to create digital products that are actually of use to the audience rather than guessing and hoping?

Anyway, if you’d like to read a little summary I found the news here.

With the impressively lousy launch of the new Sim City game I find myself once again asking - why does anyone with a functioning brain preorder videogames?

Going to the midnight screening of a film can be amazing fun but films are finished when they're released. Video games can take months before all the bugs are worked out, not to mention all the server issues at launch.

Videogames also are available on demand. It's not like they're suddenly going to stop being playable. Miss a film in the cinema and for the most part that's it; there won't be another chance. The price isn't likely to fluctuate all that much either.

If I get access to a game within about three months of release I'm happy. If I get it the week it launches it'll be a buggy hunk of junk in all likelihood. Furthermore it'll cost twice as much. Why would I bother? I probably won't even play the damn thing for a few weeks anyway.

This is not a new problem yet every major release has these issues and no one learns. It'd be nice if games were ready on release but as consumers we seem to be gagging to have our hopes dashed by developers who have over promised and under delivered.

I'm not paying full price to beta test your game. Sorry.

Conversely paying less up front with the understanding that the product will take a while to be polished rather appeals to me. It seems to have worked well for Minecraft at least.

I'm wondering where pricing is going to go though as Valve are learning fascinating things about our purchase behaviour through their sales while KickStarter is changing what we pay for and when. Combine that with smartphone app stores and it's about to get rather interesting in the download market, methinks.

I'll find a pencil...

15 March 2013

The music industry seems to spend quite a bit of time being confused about the fact that music appears to have lost its value as a tangible good to be sold. CDs still remain popular within popular culture but they're more of a legacy product in my experience. We use CDs in our cars and in various other cases where it's more convenient to have a turn-key solution but for day to day stuff how many people do you see toting discmans?

Here's a photo I took in HMV in central Cardiff recently:



I did see one person wander in but she looked twice my age and relatively disinterested.

The point being that music as a tangible thing is, for want of a more elegant expression, done. It maintains a presence in some niches, certainly, but for mass consumption?

When I built my first computer, around the turn of the century, I have been ripping music from CDs. They became inconvenient vessels of music and no more valuable than a pretty coaster. Tapes on the other hand I still hold onto and cherish. Their audio quality is fairly pathetic but there's something very, well, real about them.

I'm not trying to suggest I want to see them return; their problems aren't worth their advantages. What I miss about them is the way they were a product owned by the people. Home taping is killing music? Daft. Home taping made sharing music a hobby in and of itself!

I rather like the film High Fidelity (go watch it, I'll wait). Mix tapes for quite a large part of the narrative structure. My generation and the one after it basically missed that. Tapes were old hat by the time I was in double digits.

What I'm fantasising about is a hard wearing, tangible format. Rewritable, linearly recordable, cheap. It's all well and good sharing a few GB of files on a flash disk but who is going to listen to all of that?

A linear format though will play from beginning to end as a complete experience. A CD can do that but the easily skipped nature of it means that it's harder to ensure it's experienced in the way intended. Discs also don't exactly stand up to long term use and are usually single use in terms of recording.

Amusingly the format I'm imagining would probably need a casing that was much larger than needed. Red Dwarf joked about VHS tapes taking over from disc based formats in the future as they're just too damn big to misplace!

I'm still mulling over this technology but it should surely be feasible to create something cheap and cost effective? XML would probably factor in somewhere too...


Really Soon Shutdown.

14 March 2013

It seems that in Google’s ongoing campaign to push its own social network sacrifices are being made. That is to say services users like are being chucked out to force them closer to G+ by the looks of things.

Lots of other things have bought the farm but mostly people haven’t been too bothered. Then something big happened – Google Reader was given an expiry date.

feedlyI don’t really use RSS readers all that much these days. I sometimes have a bit of a play with Feedly but mostly I rely on Reddit.

I really love RSS as a concept but it does seem that as a technology it has had its time. I don’t mean that in the sense of it being dead more that its opportunity to dominate the end user market has been and gone. It’ll still be very useful and popular for a great deal of different sites but in terms of delivering content to James Public and Sara Normal I think it’s had its day.

The sad thing being that RSS used to be one of my favourite technologies. Its potential for amazingness and clever content aggregation was (and still is) remarkable. It seems that normal consumers just don’t see it that way. Their concept of what they want to see seems to mostly come via social media, provided by others. That is to say they want their content curated and brought to them rather than dealing with the perceived hassle of finding interesting websites themselves.

There’s certainly something to be said for that. I use Reddit like that to some extent but it’s not a perfect solution. It’d be interesting to see what an AI could manage. One day maybe I’ll have a device like Wonkers from Dreamfall.

Dreamfall06

(Aside from being a companion he pulls down news feeds and curates them to his owner’s preferences to some extent)

I’ve been thinking about storage spaces. I, like others in my family, have about six different projects on the go at any one time across multiple disciplines. So for me that manifests itself as multiple sculpts, some painting, a miniature scratch build, a costume prop build, some knitting, maybe an instrument, sometimes electronics, video stuff, or any number of other things.

The problem with this of course is how does one store so many things and still keep them accessible.

Creativity isn’t something that just clocks in at nine and leaves at the end of the day. Inspiration sometimes lasts minutes, other times will keep me up until five in the morning. The key being to strike while the iron is hot!

So to achieve that I need things to be to hand and not stashed on a shelf in a darkened cupboard. In fact if the items I need are stashed away it tends to stifle my desire to use them to a certain extent, well, not quite stifle, more like frustrate. I want to use them but a good idea will be burnt off by the tediousness of the task of retrieving the necessary things.

I would posit that anything that takes longer than 15 – 20 seconds to reach is no good for a creative project. After that length of time it’s just a case of “Ach, screw it, it’s not worth the hassle”.

This gets me pondering as to how best to stratify things by time taken to reach them. Some things like wargames terrain can be stowed a little better because I know in advance when I’ll need them and will usually have help in accessing them. Other things, such as scalpel blades, should always be within two paces, if not within arms reach.

Perhaps there’s already a principal of filing present here but I’m ignorant of it. I’d do some research on the matter but at present it would only apply to me and I’m already a bit of an anomaly.

Utilising some of the spare space at the top of British rooms (with their ludicrously cold high ceilings) to mount descending cupboards on lever arms to me seems ideal to solve this problem. Easy to reach but capable of housing all manner of doodads. Now where did I put my carpentry tools..?

Something I do not really grasp is why “smart price” and similar product ranges aren’t popular. There seems to be a perception that they’re inferior products and carry shame with them. There’s also this strange notion many seem to have that they “deserve” better which manifests it in feelings of personal failure if they cannot afford to waste money on premium branded products.

To me food is food. If I can get it cheaply then I have more money free for other things such as creative supplies or savings.

For example lasagne plates, or whatever the pasta sheet things are called. I never buy anything but the cheapest ones as I cannot see what more they could contribute to the meal. My lasagne already turns out so amazingly well as to necessitate massive over production. That’s a fancy way of saying one tray is never enough to sate gluttony resulting from the deliciousness. I usually cook two or three trays of the stuff at once.

Similarly if possible I buy the cheapest mince. It’s mince, not steak. It’s going to mostly take on the flavour of things around it or be paired with seasonings that will make it wonderful. I’ve had people sneer at me choosing to buy it from Lidl but to date I’ve not made anyone ill with my cooking. Fat, maybe (try to resist having another portion, I dare you), but not ill.

There are of course things that I avoid buying the cheapest of – bin bags for example, but usually I find that it’s simply a matter of understanding what one gets for the price. The flimsy bin bags are fine for some jobs but not for others. Sometimes that’s what one wants, other times something much sturdier is required.

If I can save a few pounds here and there and put that money towards herbs and spices instead then that seems like an excellent course of action to me. The best bacon I can think of is some of the cheapest stuff from Lidl.

Lastly I wanted to say that much like looking after a Merlin is harder than a Harris Hawk making a smaller portion tasty is harder than a bigger one. A big batch of chilli can have some wonderful depth to its flavour and there’s room to experiment. By contrast a small batch can be ruined by a few too many shakes of salt.

Wherever possible make a big batch and portion it out. That way you’ll have your own ready meals in the freezer and plenty for now.

Nom appetite.

Beneath a steel swan

11 March 2013

I love Bleak Expectations. It’s brilliantly daft.

Recently a book was released that was based on the radio series. This book is, somewhat amusingly, now available as an audiobook.bleak

There’s been a spin-off, of sorts, a live action TV show entitled The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff but whilst amusing it’s nowhere near as good as its inspiration. The simple fact of the matter is that the content of the series cannot easily be handled in live action. The silliness of it could be illustrated but the sheer oddity of the setting doesn’t really work that well when it comes to real actors and sets.

That said I think there is another format that would be absolutely fantastic for Bleak Expectations: a point-and-click adventure game. Animation could handle the many different settings (e.g. Harry Biscuit’s cake fortress, complete with spongeons) and situations found within (such as London suspended on balloons to be sold to France) in a way that live action simply couldn’t.

Then there’s the fact that point-and-click adventures rely on good voice work – not a problem for this property!

Creating puzzles shouldn’t be an issue either given the many problems that arise. It wouldn’t even have to do anything ground breaking, game-wise.

Mark Evans hopefully has the power to make this happen. Doing it via KickStarter would also be a good idea, methinks, in order to gauge support for the idea. I encourage you to tweet at him or dig up an email address and write to him!bleakexpecmarch

I don’t know whether she’d be suitable for such a large project but Amy Mckay has done some wonderful artwork for the series. She hasn’t done art for the fifth series yet but I imagine it’s only a matter of time.

Who, me?

10 March 2013

In the realm of smartphones these days there’s iOS and Android. Oh and Blackberry.

Yeah, about that…

Why is it that Blackberry phones were ever popular? Their feature set is impressively lousy compared to other smartphones and everyone I’ve known who has had one has moaned. Not the fun kind of moaning either.

Apparently RIM have rebranded themselves as Blackberry and are having another go at things. For all my negativity they look like they’re finally doing something innovative – profiles.

That is to say allowing easy switching between identities on a single phone. For example “personal” and “work”.

For me that’d be very convenient as I tend to have assorted projects on the go. Being able to run a profile for each of these would certainly be handy, particularly if I could lock them so a password or similar would be needed to switch.

Thankfully I cannot imagine such a handy feature won’t be copied immediately on the two “real” players in the market. I’m wondering if Apple are going to manage to find another creative lease though. Recent phones have been incremental at best and the “wow” factor just isn’t there.

Anyway, returning to the point, it seems incredibly difficult to run multiple identities side by side. I run at least three different browsers, for example, simply to cope with the different accounts for Twitter, Tumblr, and so on. I can’t imagine my situation is common enough to be solved soon but perhaps if the separation of work and home life on the same device takes off as a usability concept then there’s hope?

For all the doom and gloom I see there are some things that make me cheerful. One of those things is what Unity is doing for smaller game developers.

Unity is a game engine that runs on smartphones/tablets (iOS/Android), consoles (Xbox 360, PS3, WiiU), desktops (Windows, OSX, Linux), and even webbrowsers through Unity Player.

Right, with that covered and a rudimentary understanding of what a game engine does you might be able to see why it's such a popular bit of tech.

That's not what inspires me though, although I do love a bit of the ol' cross compatibility. No, it's the sheer variety of games being made. Today I received an email about another Indie Bundle type thing. I paid a few quid for it even though they're not on Steam simply because the games impressed me with their variety.

Recent mentions that spring to mind would be both Dreamfall Chapters and Wasteland 2. One is an adventure game, the other more of a strategy game but it seems the engine is serving them both extremely well.

I'm unlikely to be alone in that I have a game idea sloshing around in my brain. Back in the day I'd have no idea where to begin implementing it but these days it would seem that learning to code would be the first step. That may seem a silly thing to say as that's no different than back then. However, in big neon letters, these days I'd be learning to code with the intention of applying those skills to Unity. Before I would have no idea where to direct my efforts.

With that out of the way I can spend time working on the underlying game mechanics and simple algorithms for how it would work. That makes it much easier to begin to think about what would need to be coded to make the various subsystems work. Certainly a good start!

Earlier I mentioned how I'm a bit of a cross compatibility fan. Something that can be seen by looking at the supported platform lists is that in theory porting a Unity game to Linux is relatively easy. This pleases me. More games made for Linux makes it a more interesting platform for consumers. If the platform starts to gain new titles at a similar rate to competitors it certainly helps its gaming credentials. I'd love to be able to run Linux on the desktop again without feeling like I'm missing out on things. Soon?



One of the reasons I argue with people online as much as I do is simple - it gets my noggin working.

When trying to beat someone in an argument I'm forced to try to quickly build an argument from assorted components in my head. Occasionally I even make a friend through mutual respect. That's fairly rare though as it seems most folks don't take kindly to being beaten.

As long as the other person beats me properly, that is to say with solid arguments that trump my own, I'm actually fairly happy. I am not always right but if no one points it out how am I to learn?

Something I find myself drawn into arguments fairly frequently on is spelling and grammar. My own grammar isn't perfect but my spelling and vocabulary is pretty damn good. I cannot abide lazy mistakes though, that is to say the kind which one could spot through a single glance. The wrong kind of "your" aggravates me no end, for example!

Unfortunately, or possibly fortunately, most people don't seem to grasp how a spelling mistake like that reads in my mind. The best way I can put it is to imagine someone is playing a pleasant tune on a piano and then hits completely the wrong note. It totally disrupts the melody and makes it difficult to get back to enjoying the music. That's how basic spelling mistakes end up for me. PARSE ERROR.

Of course when I point this out people are rarely sympathetic. Apparently it's more important I understand how they feel than the other way around. Also apparently I'm no fun at parties and don't get laid, or similar.

I'm struggling to stifle laughter at those idiotic assumptions.

Morons.




Last night I watched The Shawshank Redemption for the first time. See? I told you I’d see it eventually.

Anyway the point of this post isn’t actually about the film itself it’s more about the setting. It starts in 1947 and has a man being incarcerated in a fairly friendly prison (compared to the much more brutal places that apparently exist in the US these days). Freedom is lost.

Except I found myself thinking – if you weren’t locked up, character that I kept forgetting the name of, what would you actually be doing with your life?

It’s the 1940s/50s, what is there to actually be doing?

Social interaction, sure, but what else? Travel is expensive, slow, and limited. Very few interesting consumer goods exist. The mass media is basically radio for the most part. Education is hard to come by and rather impenetrable. Creative pursuits are rather limited in scope due to the cost and availability of tools.

This contrasts with how I view the world today where I could give you a list of any number of things that are available. Cheap flights, TV and films available for virtually nothing on demand, any number of fun diversions, quick and easy access to education in all kinds of fields, and unprecedented access to creative tools.

I wonder how many things don’t get done now simply because boredom is so easy to avoid. Lots of young people did amazing things back then and I imagine that part of the reason they devoted so much time to their projects was simply because they had time and nothing better to be doing.

These days I could name any number of things one could be doing with one’s time, both productive and unproductive. I for one write a blog entry every day to improve my writing skills. That wouldn’t have been possible back then. Certainly I could have written every day but distributing it to the world would have been impossible.

It concerns me somewhat that my generation might be missing out on motivation due to this enormous buffet of distractions. Years slip by so quickly and I watch people I had considered friends do, well, nothing. They work unfulfilling jobs to pay their bills, watch some content, have a few drinks, go to the cinema, and then repeat it. Over and over.

How do people live like that? To me that’d be like being a prisoner. At least in prison the conditions aren’t directly self-imposed!

I work hard to fill my life with odd experiences and fun things. I do a strange job that leaves me with very little money but a lot of time. Time can be exchanged for money, certainly, but not the other way around. The value of my time as I grow older is going to decrease in some ways – I’m never going to be this young ever again. Neither are you. I’d rather enjoy time while I’m young than have it when I’ve retired. The tail end of life isn’t anywhere near as certain as now. That is to say I’m definitely alive at the moment whereas I’ll only probably be alive in the future.

fireshrimpNow you must excuse me while I pretend to be a fire shrimp.

I’ve owned three laptops to date. Of those only one survived and that was mainly through being a bit too puny to get used. Hopefully one day I’ll find something fun to do with it.

The most expensive of those served me well and was used to edit the Napier Subculture Podcast amongst other things. It had a rather good spec for the time and cost me the best part of £1000. The previous laptop I’d owned had cost about £450 and became unusable after two years of use due to overheating issues.

My expensive laptop on the other hand… became unusable after two years due to overheating issues.

In fact when I’ve asked friends (who use their computers for similar things, not those who just browse Facebook) it seems that two years is basically the lifetime of any laptop.

At the moment I don’t have a laptop, essentially, and whilst I’d love to be able to do stuff on the go I just cannot justify something that will have a two year lifespan in my hands. I cannot foresee myself purchasing another based on the way laptops perform now. Perhaps further down the line radical changes will give me new options but for now it just seems like folly.

Prior to a few weeks ago I could not see a use case for tablet computers in my life. I can see their usefulness to others under specific circumstances just not in my own life. Then I started thinking about how long tablets might last. Are they likely to suffer from overheating issues like laptops do?

In my mind it seems unlikely but I’m going to have to wait and see. Smartphones are good but something larger would probably be more useful, particularly if it was running Ubuntu or similar. The lifetime of the device is what concerns me most ultimately. I want it to survive until there’s something good enough to warrant a replacement, much like my smartphone. I shouldn’t be replacing it just because the damn thing cooked itself!

This also got me thinking about whether laptops will soon be a thing of the past. They’re, for the most part, based on x86 processors. Terrible efficiency there with regards to power requirements vs. computational performance. ARM architecture processors are becoming considerably more popular I would argue primarily due to the smartphone market.

As a result tablets use ARM processors/ARM-based SoCs and whole ecosystem of software has emerged to support them. If tablets and laptops effectively merged as a hardware class I would imagine they’d do so around ARM hardware and Android/Linux/iOS.

If that were to happen and ARM tablets and laptops took over it’d be interesting to see whether Windows would be able to hold on. Microsoft are trying to get a foot in the door but to call the reception they’re getting “lukewarm” would be generous. That would leave desktop PCs as the last stronghold for Windows.

That would break down into home PCs and corporate. Now corporate is a safer bet due to the cost of transition and general sluggishness associated with the market. Desktop PCs on the other hand move a bit more quickly. How soon until they’re no longer necessary either?

People are now familiar with app stores and built in functionality that currently Windows just doesn’t supply. Windows 8 is trying to push things in that direction but only time will tell how well that will work out. The colossal mess Microsoft made with Windows Live doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

I’m curious where tablets will fit into this as they seem to supply much of the functionality people are after without the hassle of Windows and the clutter of desktop PCs. Perhaps things will stay roughly the same but perhaps one aspect of today’s technology will squash the other?

Skip to the end…

05 March 2013

On forums I tend to get into arguments. Sometimes they’re heated debates where both sides are firm in their convictions, others I cannot tolerate their idiocy any longer. Occasionally it’s simply because someone fails to grasp what I said and gets incredibly worked up over something that I neither said nor meant. It probably works the other way around too!

Most recently I was arguing with someone over a question I asked on both /r/Warhammer and /r/Warhammer40k. The former is actually more like a generalised Games Workshop board and is about four times the size of the latter. It’s also about four times as hostile and I avoid posting in there if I can avoid it simply due to how unfriendly the members tend to be. Occasionally though it’s necessary in order to get enough eyeballs on the problem.

I’m working on improving my sculpting as many of you probably know. I currently sculpt greenskins which involves a lot of musculature for the most part. It’s tricky but I’m learning. What it doesn’t involve is clean lines and machined surfaces. I’d like some practice at that and as such am looking for other projects that might be worthwhile.

I’d like to make some models that could act as stand-ins for Sisters of Battle. The standard infantry unit, Battle Sisters, haven’t changed in over fifteen years and as such seem a good place to start, at least until plastic models are released.

Modern models tend to be fairly standardised: legs, torsos, heads, arms, weapons, accessories.

Weapons, heads, accessories, and probably arms too are all available from Games Workshop or third parties. What I’d need is torsos and legs.

The thing being, Sisters wear power armour. It’s not quite as bulky as that worn by Space Marines as they’re only human whereas marines are superhuman behemoths. That said in real world modelling terms the size difference between humans and superhumans tends to be fairly negligible, really.

So, having done a spot of googling I thought I’d ask the community if there was some set of plastic Space Marine models I’d missed that might be a good fit.

Here’s where the misunderstanding comes in – they seemed to think I was asking “How can I make a small army of Sisters of Battle?”

What I was actually asking was “Good Space Marine legs for Sisters conversions?”

I'm looking to put together some sisters and it'd be handy to be able to have some plastic to work from as a base. Ideally Space Marines of some variety so I could sculpt some parts that would fit with both the GW plastics and all the other third party resin legs.

Any suggestions?

One particular poster seemed unable to grasp that I wasn't asking for conversion tips. He kept insisting I should use Eldar parts because it’d be easier. For example:

However I did think through the process though and came to the conclusion that Eldar guardian legs might be a better choice than space marine legs, as the general shape is closer between the two. All you would really need to do is shave of the pads on the sides of the guardians legs (just below the knees) and then add details and fill in the line running down the thighs with greenstuff.

Despite numerous attempts to clarify he seemed unable to grasp what I was trying to achieve. Space Marines are what Games Workshop sell the most of. They’ve barely changed in twenty years and given how much more conservative their business strategy is these days I can’t foresee any drastic shifts any time soon. As such they are a standard. Third party manufacturers make parts for that scale and with those connectors in mind. As a result Kromlech legs will fit on Anvil Industry chests with Games Workshop arms, Puppets War weapons, MaxMini backpacks, and Chapter House heads.

So if I could get models to fit that standard it would make the other parts cross compatible. If the sizing doesn’t work out then I won’t go that way, obviously. I just wanted to avoid a situation where I finish the torsos and legs and come across someone saying “Why didn’t you just use the Space Marine legs from set X? Would have saved yourself some time!”

This seems to have been completely misinterpreted though as I then found myself on the receiving end of comments like:

Second, if you are trying to help someone else get in to the hobby without teaching them any of the conversion or green stuffing techniques then why are you having her make plastic SoB? You are better off just either getting metal SoB and subbing in the plastic IG vehicle equivalents or just having her play a straight up different army all together. This also doesn't account for the fact that the SoB codex isn't really in a good place right now relative to other codices and certainly isn't the easiest start with, and if you are proxying them anyway then what is the point of kit bashing really lazy models.

The sculpts are ostensibly for Jenny to build a Sisters army counts-as, although I’d love some models for myself too. The thing being that they appeal to her. I’ve not read the Wheel of Time books but she tells me that the Sisters remind her of some characters/faction in them that she would love to recreate in some way. They’re also the 40K equivalent of Mordheim’s Sisters of Sigmar battle nuns.

The point being that I haven’t asked her to play 40K, I have friends to do modelling stuff with. We do loads of other stuff together and apart so I don’t feel it’s important that she gets into it with both barrels, so to speak. All I ask is to be allowed to enjoy my toy soldiers, although really I have no need to ask for that as it’s offered without question.

So to have someone say “Why don’t you have her do X?” actively offends me. I’ve not said “How about these? Maybe you’ll like them?”

I also haven’t tried to push her in any direction with regards to army choice. If she likes Necrons, or Space Marines, or whatever, I don’t have a preference. I’ll still be playing Orks at the end of the day!

I play Orks because I’m passionate about them. If I can’t play as them and nothing else takes my fancy I play a different game. I’m not going to spend time, effort, or money on a hobby that I don’t enjoy. Furthermore if I’m not passionate it’s very hard to sculpt cool stuff to sell!

The codex remark is also irrelevant. Even if the new codex was completely different it just doesn’t seem that standard infantry units are going to go the way of pickled dodo sandwiches. The unit size might change, they might get some new special weapon options, but ultimately nuns with assault rifles are going to still be required en masse. Aha, mass.

This went back and forth for a while because the other person seemed to think I was trying to help my friend create a small army of models. That wasn’t what I asked. I already know how I’m dealing with that issue.

They even claimed I came asking for advice and wasn’t listening to them because I wasn’t interested in their incorrect answers. “Eldar Guardians” isn’t an option when the question asked is “Which Space Marine legs would work, if any?” any more than “Hot chocolate” is an answer to “What would you like from the fridge?”.

I’m a special kind of lazy – I’ll design and work hard to implement solutions today so I can relax tomorrow. It’s a practical puzzle and solving it is very satisfying. Trimming plastic details off the sixteenth model in a squad on the other hand is only marginally more interesting than spending the day photocopying receipts.

I’ve had my battered old iPhone 3GS since Q2 2009 and it has served me well. So well that I have no intention of replacing it any time soon.

There’s two reasons for this – expense and disinterest.

New phones are shiny and nice but ultimately do not offer all that much more. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy new technology but only when it’s actually at a good cost/benefit ratio.

I paid through the nose for my 3GS as I got it around the time it was released. Whether that was worth it at the time is questionable but seeing as it has so far lasted nearly four years with no real end in sight I would say I got a pretty solid deal.

I love smartphones and eagerly anticipated an Apple phone long before it was announced. I didn’t like their MP3 players but their interface was excellent. My previous smartphones had used Symbian, specifically Series 60, and whilst capable its UX was abominable. I had an iPhone from when they were new and later upgraded to a 3GS, skipping the 3G.

Though there have been several models since I cannot say that any have really changed things that much. A better camera is nice, a better screen is okay too, but other than that..?

The big change between my Nokia N70 and my iPhone was the user experience. I could actually do fewer things on the iPhone than on the N70 but what it could manage it did in a way that was pleasant to use. The 3GS introduced me to an Apple handset that could use 3G, GPS, record video, and had reasonable speakers. It performed better too and had a better camera, but those were the big advantages.

By comparison I look at more modern phones and ask “Yes, and..?”

The only feature I can think of that interests me enough to consider upgrading is projection. Phones now exist with built in projectors.

Being able to lie in bed and project videos onto the ceiling or similar strikes me as rather fun and useful. I don’t watch many videos on my phone, although I have done on occasion, but given that many more sites support streaming now it seems quite feasible to use my phone for this job. Furthermore XBMC runs on phones these days and would allow access to my media centre. Tasty!

gsmarena_007Unfortunately there’s only a handful of phones with the tech at the moment and it doesn’t seem all that popular just yet. Also battery life suffers incredibly. Get it sorted, ladies and gents, maybe I’ll one day buy something from you if you do…

As you may know my opinion of Assassin’s Creed 3 was not a positive one. I’m unable to be scathing about it though as there’s two words that fight tooth and nail to describe it. I cannot choose which is more accurate, “dull” or “boring”.

Other factors aside the setting simply didn’t allow for much in the way of adventure. I love a good adventure romp. It doesn’t need to be perfect and I’m quite happy to excuse a bit of goofiness if I’m otherwise enjoying myself. I love the two National Treasure films for precisely that reason.Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage, pictured) steals the Declaration of Independence in order to uncover the final clues leading to the treasure his family has chased for generations.

The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is another excellent example of this – it’s sometimes dumb but it rarely bores me. I used to get this feeling from the Assassin’s Creed games. On occasion it managed to be intelligent or interesting too (I particularly liked the minigame sequences in the earlier games. I hated their omission from AC3).

That said there was one excellent element in AC3 – the naval battles. They were beautiful, exciting, and… fun.

So when this appeared I was rather pleased: assassins-creed-4-black-flag-confirmed-by-ubisoft I would love to explore the settlements of the Caribbean and the other elements appeal too. Amusingly I find myself hopeful that it’ll actually be enjoyable because I cannot imagine Ubisoft managing to create a full Assassin’s Creed game that’s actually worse than AC3. It just doesn’t seem feasible.

Here’s the trailer if you’re interested:

It’s due out on October 29th this year, apparently.

I used to love strategy games. Command & Conquer was tricky for me at the time it was released, or a few years after at least, but I could at least play C&C: Red Alert to some extent. I usually just played skirmish mode though as the single player campaign was too difficult for me.

Fast forward to a few years later and I got my mitts on a pirated copy of Red Alert 2 and adored it. The single player was easy enough for me to actually finish it and have fun along the way. I even played through the game on hard difficulty because I could for once. The expansion pack, Yuri’s Revenge, was released and it added even more awesome fun to things. hollyIt’s one of those things I wish I could ask Dave to delete from my memory so I could enjoy them as new all over again.

However Command & Conquer: Generals was released a little while later and the graphical style completely put me off. I couldn’t get behind the advantages of a fully 3D environment at all. In Peter Molyneaux’s Black & White I could manage it but for a “true” RTS it just seemed out of place.

Red Alert 3 was released some years later and I played a few missions before uninstalling that tiresome crap. It meant well, it really did, but the squished, almost Chibi art style was horrendous. Couple that with the concept of “Co-Commanders” who would complete the mission for me (I rather like taking things at my own pace both in life and in video games) and the resulting experience was dire.

Since then I’ve not really played any RTS games due to the lack of things that interest me. I enjoyed the isometric viewpoint but I’m not married to it. It’s simply a matter of not enjoying it being shoe-horned in where it really doesn’t need to be. If it actually benefits play in a meaningful way that’s fine.

Somewhere on Reddit I got linked to a KickStarter project called Death Inc. and I would suggest you check it out. Whether it’ll be any good remains to be seen but at the time of writing £10 will get you the game. It only has a few days left but with a big push it could well make its target.8513562780_7cf2800284_o

It’s looking to combine elements from Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, Pikmin, and Darwinia. I’m rather enamoured with the painting mechanic for path finding and it’s also going to be cross platform which makes me a happy räv.

Take a look at least, I think it’s pushing the RTS genre forward in a way that looks… fun. Lots of games seem to forget about the whole enjoyment thing and strive to remain serious. Gaming is serious business as we know.

man_ska_vara_serios

Monster puns

01 March 2013

I was in Wilkinsons in Cardiff a few days ago, a much less traumatising experience than I was expecting as it happens. Anyway, my own prejudices aside, they had some rather fun things.

Being a mature adult I always look at the toy aisles in shops. Sometimes I despair while at other times I’m envious. The off-brand Lego space shuttle was rather cool and the idea of painting little plastic soldiers with glow in the dark paint to use in place of stars on a bedroom ceiling also popped into my head. Where was I going with this odd ramble..?

Ah yes – dolls.

I spotted what toy manufacturers have dubbed “fashion dolls” (technically not a new category, I’m more talking about what it represents as of this decade). The concept behind the product type tends to creep me out a little, particularly when bizarre abominations like “Bratz Babyz” exist:

Babyz

Anyway, from that you should be able to discern my general feelings on the concept. Yadda yadda, outrage, premature sexualisation*, you get the gist of it.

What I saw in Wilkinsons though was more interesting than that though – Monster High.Monster-High-monsterhigh-14503030-1280-800

A range of fashion dolls based on assorted classic movie monsters.

They look glamorous, far too thin, and not one of the females wears flat shoes, but they’ve got a hell of a lot more character than the other dross being peddled. Furthermore they’ve got a wealth of literature and film as a basis so even if their own media sucks (I haven’t checked) they still have a leg to stand on.

x3652-1 The other important factor is that none of them look the same. They may share a similar aesthetic but that’s where the similarity stops. This blog post goes into a bit more detail on the subject. Currently my favourite would have to be Robecca Steam (pictured) but many of the characters have interesting quirks to them.

I’m wondering if this kind of transition to toys which are accepting of diversity through a parallel setting (rather than straight up doll equivalents of human diversity) is going to continue. Personally I find it a lot more tasteful than the Disney Princesses and horrendous barrage of pink junk. Sure, the focus is still shadow, but I’d argue it’s at least a positive step.

 

*I say premature sexualisation because humans are sexual creatures, not inanimate lumps of carbon. It’s in our very nature to be sexual and we need to accept that rather than repress it. I have met several people who don’t seem to have come to terms with their own sexuality, let alone any of the more complex issues such as orientation or preferences. Doing it prematurely is arguably a bad idea though, at least until we have some research that says otherwise. If such research already exists then link me, I’d rather be corrected than remain ignorant and opinionated.